The Oxford University men’s water polo team secured the Bucs Southern Premier League title last Wednesday with victory over Imperial College London, becoming the first Oxford team in over a decade to win full Blues for water polo. Oxford’s victory at the Rosenblatt Pool at Iffley was the culmination of an already successful season.
Impressive wins at home to Bristol and away to Imperial early in Michaelmas saw the campaign start full of promise, but a narrow 12-11 loss to the University of the West of England ended hopes of an undefeated season before Christmas.
Yet, Oxford bounced back in Hilary, grinding out results in an intense schedule of games. A 6-6 draw at home to perennial table-toppers Cardiff was followed by a decisive 11-4 away win at UWE set up a high stakes situation for the final game of the season at home to Imperial. Win, and they would go top. Lose, and they would miss out on full Blues.
Given what was at stake, the first quarter of the Imperial game was predictably cagey, with the away side struggling to break through a fierce Oxford press, while at the other end of the pool the home side repeatedly found shots hitting the posts or flying over.
However, with two minutes left of the quarter the pressure began to tell, and Oxford managed to breakthrough, two goals from pit forward Seh Woon Neo sending them into the second quarter with a 3-1 lead. The game was won in the next eight minutes of play, as Oxford proceeded to shut out the Imperial attack, winning the quarter 3-0 and going into halftime with a comfortable 6-1 lead.
From there, experienced pit defender Joe Ortiz led a stifling defence that kept the Imperial attack out of range of the Oxford goal and allowed outside players to steal the ball and make their opponents relinquish possession by forcing turnovers. Oxford ‘keeper Luca Rottoli managed to maintain the shut-out, saving a penalty as well as making several key steals that saw he and Ortiz keep the Imperial pit forward locked out of the match.
From that point on, the game was fairly comfortable for the home side. Formulaic polo saw Oxford continue to find success playing the ball into goal-scorers Richard O’Halloran and Seh Woon Neo, while also attempting to wind the clock down.
A series of well executed moves saw Oxford move the ball around the pool with ease, finding O’Halloran in space on the left-hand side multiple times and extending their lead to 9-2. In the final quarter, Imperial began to show signs of revival, drawing the score back to 9-5, however the pace of Oxford’s counter-attack through the legs of Blues swimmer and crowd favourite Dominic McGloughlin soon stretched the game out.
A series of attacks back and forth saw Oxford continue to frustrate Imperial, answering two of their goals with three of their own. By the time the last minutes of the game came around, Oxford were comfortable enough to sit back and let time run down, until the game ended with a final score of 12-7.
In this game, as over the course of the season, a core of players entering their final years at Oxford proved the value of experience, while his year’s crop of freshers provided a massive boost. Five of the players who featured against Imperial were in their first year with the team.
Victory sent them to the top of the league, a feat not achieved by Oxford since the Premier Division format was introduced.
They also secured a bye into the quarter-finals of the cup competition to add yet more momentum to carry them into the Varsity Match in two weeks’ time.